Have Your Period? Science Says You May Want To Tone Down Your Exercise Intensity

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If the only pose you feel like striking on your period is the fetal one, you’re not alone in wanting to take a few rest days from your fitness routine. A pre-period dip in estrogen levels (which research has found may also knock down the mood-boosting hormone serotonin) and iron can lead to sluggishness that can make any activity a struggle.

But before avoiding working out on period altogether, it's important to note that certain types of exercise can bring on some benefits, like menstrual cramps relief or a reduced flow. With that being said, sticking to period-friendly exercises (and certain workout modifications) is essential for ensuring you stay feeling your best.

Experts In This Article

Below, learn everything there is to know about the effect of working out on your period (including which exercise is best during periods) so you can choose the best menstrual cycle workout for you.

The benefits of working out on your period

The effect of exercise on periods is something to get excited about. Even if you’re not particularly in the mood to work out, rallying yourself up for exercise during this, ahem, period can actually provide some impressive benefits. Here's how your menstrual health and fitness routine can go hand-in-hand.

1. It provides menstrual cramps relief

If you’re someone who deals with pain every month, the benefits of exercising on your period could include the menstrual cramps relief you’ve been looking for. (You can also try different stretches for menstrual cramps.)

"Although there are no clear studies to prove this, the theory for why exercise helps [your cramps]—which we know by clinical experience that it does—is two-fold,” Adeeti Gupta, MD, founder of Walk In GYN Care in New York City, previously told Well+Good. “With exercise, the pelvic muscles get warm and relaxed and this relieves the pain happening from the spasm of the pelvic muscle which may be the culprit for many women with painful periods. It also increases blood flow to the pelvic organs."

2. It boosts your mood

Sticking to a period fitness routine can help boost your mood. In a January 2020 review published in the journal Complementary Therapies in Medicine, researchers found exercise can help improve psychological symptoms of PMS, including anxiety and anger.

3. It combats fatigue

If you tend to feel super tired and worn down during your period, you’re not alone. But exercise during period may help. In a survey of over 14,000 female athletes, 47 percent of the women felt that moderate intensity exercise not only helped with fatigue, but also cramps, mood changes, and cravings, Well+Good previously reported.

4. It reduces period flow

Does exercise reduce period flow? According to a March 2021 study published in the Women in Sport and Physical Activity Journal, it might.

The researchers found that the women who avoided physical activity had longer periods, a heavier flow, and higher levels of fatigue compared to those who chose to exercise during their period. Aka all the more reason to do a menstrual cycle workout.

“Prioritizing lower-impact and gentler movements when you are experiencing PMS may help decrease inflammation, keep your body temperature regulated, and regulate stress levels.” —Maeve McEwen, lead trainer and director of programming of Pvolve

The drawbacks of working out on your period

While there are clearly plenty of benefits to kickstarting a period fitness routine, the effect of exercise on periods isn’t always good. There are also some dangers of overexercising to be aware of.

The first thing to keep in mind is that when you exercise during period, it’s important to go easy on the impact in order to protect your joints. Why? Well, the period-related shift in hormones can cause connective tissue to get lax, says body performance and injury expert Rami Hashish, PhD. “That increases your risk of sustaining a major injury, like an ACL tear, during that time,” he says. Essentially, softer ligaments allow your lower limbs to move out of alignment more easily (think of twisting a knee or rolling an ankle).

Data backs up his assertion: According to a January 2017 review on menstrual cycle effects in the Muscles, Ligaments and Tendons Journal, athletes who have a period, like skiers2 for example, tend to experience ligament-loosening during the follicular phase, which is the first of four phases of the menstrual cycle, starting on the first day of a menstrual period. And the risk of injury may return in the later part of that phase (a few days post-period), too, according to a March 2021 study in Frontiers in Sports and Active Living. Researchers found that among a group of 113 professional women soccer players, muscle and tendon injury rates were 88 percent higher in that phase than in any other.

That’s why there are important things to mind when choosing a menstrual cycle workout. If you're looking for period-friendly exercises and workout modifications that allow you to reap the benefits of combining exercise and menstruation, read up on which exercise is best during periods below.

Which exercise is best during your period?

Ready to try some workouts for PMS? Experts recommend adding some period-friendly exercises into your fitness routine if you’re feeling up to it. Essentially, Dr. Hashish says to go for anything low-impact, and if you’re wondering which exercise is best during periods, the below options are a great place to start.

With that being said, if you really, truly, want to get your sweat on, don't deprive yourself. By taking the appropriate precautions and pre-workout preparations, you can safely HIIT any day of the month. Just listen to your body, first and foremost, warm up well and use proper footwear, says spinal and orthopedic surgeon Gbolahan Okubadejo, MD, FAAOS, head of The Institute for Comprehensive Spine Care.

“If you feel really exhausted, you may want to take a day or two off from exercising, or just engage in light exercise such as going for a walk or short hike,” he says.

1. Gentle yoga and Pilates

In terms of a top-notch workout routine that benefits your menstrual health, yoga and Pilates are hard to beat.

“Prioritizing lower-impact and gentler movements when you are experiencing PMS may help decrease inflammation, keep your body temperature regulated, and regulate stress levels,” Maeve McEwen, Pvolve's lead trainer and director of programming, previously told Well+Good.

In addition, a small October 2019 study published in the Journal of Education and Health Promotion found yoga can be effective in treating PMS.

2. Jogging

Prefer some cardio? Go for a jog.

“Cardio releases endorphins, which can help get rid of prostaglandins, the chemicals produced during a period that cause fever, pain, and muscle contractions,” Dr. Okubadejo says. And the endorphins will, of course, boost your mood, too.

3. Swimming

If you’re a fan of being in the water, you’re in luck: Dr. Hashish says swimming is another soothing low-impact exercise option that can be beneficial during your period.

According to a small December 2022 study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, swimming may even help alleviate some PMS symptoms.

4. Stability work

Last but not least, Dr. Hashish is also a fan of adding stability work into your routine.

“I also suggest stability work, focusing on the core and the gluteus medius—that big fan-shaped muscle on the sides of your hips,” he says. “Increasing strength there will help you retain better control of your lower limbs and resist injury.”

Exercises to avoid during your period

In terms of exercise and menstruation, there are also certain types of movement to avoid. Dr. Hashish says right around your period, it may be smart to steer clear of high-impact workouts involving side-to-side motions—especially if your body’s not well-conditioned to them.

So basically, if you haven’t ever tried HIIT, now might not be the best time to dive in. And if you are a HIIT regular, you can partake if you’re feeling up to it—just be extra mindful of your posture while in motion (keep knees positioned over toes) to prevent unnatural pivots or twists, Dr. Okubadejo says.

Interestingly, the effect of your menstrual cycle on your metabolism may support going easy on the exercise during a period, too. It likely rises a bit in the luteal phase, which is the couple weeks before your period, says nutritional biologist Sridevi Krishnan, PhD.

“We see an increase in body temperature then, which is an indicator of higher metabolic activity,” she says.

And that’s when it makes sense to ramp up the intensity of your workouts (again, this is a couple weeks pre-period), in order to reap the biggest reward from your high-functioning metabolism. This way, you’ll also effectively offset the slow-down experts recommend once your period hits.

Also, during that pre-period, metabolism-pumping phase, you may feel hungrier, Dr. Krishnan says. In which case, go ahead and eat a little more.

“A study on a menstrual cycle-focused diet had participants consume an extra 100 to 200 calories during that phase in the form of dark chocolate, and found that they actually sustained or lost weight,” Dr. Krishnan adds.

Dr. Krishnan also recommends reaching for nutrient-dense foods in the lead-up to your period to provide energy and satisfy hunger. That means high-protein options, as well as anything containing oleic acid (like avocados, olives, almonds, or cashews), which triggers the production of a fullness-inducing endocannabinoid4 in the body.

Period hygiene when exercising

Working out during your period can sometimes be a little tricky, but choosing the right period products can help ensure you stay comfortable and protected during whichever type of exercise you're engaging in.

If you’re swimming, doing yoga or Pilates, jogging, or doing stability work, a tampon tends to be the go-to pick for moving freely and staying leak-free. With that being said, if you find that tampons are irritating or uncomfortable, you can also opt for a pad (unless you’re going swimming, that is).

You can also work out tampon- or pad-free by wearing a pair of period underwear, which has built-in protection that can absorb two tampons' worth of blood, depending on the brand. Or, opt for a menstrual cup, which can be beneficial on days you’re dealing with a heavier flow.

“Menstrual cups can hold more than a typical tampon can—sometimes two to three times more depending on the cup,” Nicole Sparks, MD, an Atlanta-based OB/GYN, previously told Well+Good. When it comes to working out on your period, go with whatever feels best for you.


1. Should I work out on the first day of my period?

If you’re wondering if you should work out on the first day of your period, go for it. It's a simple way to benefit your menstrual health, as exercise reduces period flow, provides menstrual cramps relief, and more.

With that being said, experts recommend opting for low-impact exercises—such as yoga, jogging or walking, and stability work—to keep you feeling your best.

2. What exercises should be avoided during periods?

While establishing a period fitness routine can come with many benefits, you need to ensure you’re doing the right exercises. That might be opting for workout modifications or choosing low-impact exercises like yoga or swimming. (There’s even a workout for each stage of your cycle and tips for better timing your cycle and workouts, if you want to dig in even further.)

When it comes to exercise and menstruation, the main thing to keep in mind is to always choose the type of movement that feels right for you.

Well+Good articles reference scientific, reliable, recent, robust studies to back up the information we share. You can trust us along your wellness journey.
  1. Balachandar, Vivek et al. “Effects of the menstrual cycle on lower-limb biomechanics, neuromuscular control, and anterior cruciate ligament injury risk: a systematic review.” Muscles, ligaments and tendons journal vol. 7,1 136-146. 10 May. 2017, doi:10.11138/mltj/2017.7.1.136
  2. Lefevre, N et al. “Anterior cruciate ligament tear during the menstrual cycle in female recreational skiers.” Orthopaedics & traumatology, surgery & research : OTSR vol. 99,5 (2013): 571-5. doi:10.1016/j.otsr.2013.02.005
  3. Martin, Dan et al. “Injury Incidence Across the Menstrual Cycle in International Footballers.” Frontiers in sports and active living vol. 3 616999. 1 Mar. 2021, doi:10.3389/fspor.2021.616999
  4. Schwartz, Gary J et al. “The lipid messenger OEA links dietary fat intake to satiety.” Cell metabolism vol. 8,4 (2008): 281-288. doi:10.1016/j.cmet.2008.08.005
  5. Kolić, Petra V, et al. “Physical Activity and the Menstrual Cycle: A Mixed-Methods Study of Women’S Experiences.” Women in Sport and Physical Activity Journal, vol. 29, no. 1, 2021, https://doi.org/10.1123/wspaj.2020-0050.
  6. Yesildere Saglam, Havva, and Ozlem Orsal. “Effect of exercise on premenstrual symptoms: A systematic review.” Complementary therapies in medicine vol. 48 (2020): 102272. doi:10.1016/j.ctim.2019.102272
  7. Vaghela, Nirav et al. “To compare the effects of aerobic exercise and yoga on Premenstrual syndrome.” Journal of education and health promotion vol. 8 199. 24 Oct. 2019, doi:10.4103/jehp.jehp_50_19
  8. Witkoś, Joanna et al. “The Impact of Competitive Swimming on Menstrual Cycle Disorders and Subsequent Sports Injuries as Related to the Female Athlete Triad and on Premenstrual Syndrome Symptoms.” International journal of environmental research and public health vol. 19,23 15854. 28 Nov. 2022, doi:10.3390/ijerph192315854

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